Types of Mistakes Lawyers Should Not Make

Retaining a lawyer usually means that you have a serious matter that needs a competent lawyer to handle the case. Lawyers are paid substantial funds because many of these cases require knowledge of the applicable law, rules, or regulations governing the matter and how to navigate the complex court system. An attorney’s failure to either know or to apply the proper law to your case or to negligently handle it, resulting in an unexpected and adverse outcome, can lead to a legal malpractice claim. Such claims can harm the client and severely damage the lawyer’s reputation and career. 

It’s not uncommon for attorneys to make mistakes, particularly new attorneys or attorneys practicing in areas they are not familiar with. However, the real world can be unforgiving, where even a seemingly simple oversight, like forgetting to schedule a hearing or missing a deadline, can have catastrophic consequences for a case. 

It is important to note that many attorney errors do not significantly harm a client. In such cases, the attorney or firm often manages to rectify the situation, finds a solution that satisfies the client, or mitigates the harm. However, lawyers should always strive to avoid certain types of mistakes since even a seemingly minor error can balloon into a catastrophe. By learning from these mistakes and continuously improving, lawyers can protect their clients and enhance their professional growth and reputation.

Calendaring and Scheduling Errors

One of the most critical mistakes to avoid is failing to file a claim before a statute expires. This is a common error, even among experienced attorneys. Having multiple calendars to schedule hearings, motions, discovery deadlines, depositions, and the applicable statute of limitations is essential. Missing a deadline on filing a valid claim, especially where a client could reasonably expect considerable compensation, can lead to a malpractice claim. 

Missing other deadlines, such as court appearances or not following a discovery schedule imposed by the court, can not only result in fines levied against the attorney but can seriously jeopardize a favorable outcome in the client’s case. 

Jurisdiction Mistakes

Even if an attorney files your claim on time or before the statute of limitations expires, he has to be sure the claim is filed in the proper court. For instance, if the defendant is out of state or in a foreign country, or the matter could involve a federal matter, the attorney has to ensure he files the claim in the proper state or federal court.

Failure to Conduct Discovery and Investigation 

All cases need to be thoroughly investigated and discovery conducted appropriately. Success in a settlement or at trial largely depends on a proper investigation, research of the law, questioning witnesses, finding qualified experts, and deposing the parties and essential witnesses. A lazy attorney who assumes that little or no investigation is needed or who neglects to question or depose certain witnesses can find himself a defendant in a legal malpractice claim when the case turns on facts or circumstances that proper investigation and conduct of discovery would certainly have uncovered and been dealt with but results in substantial harm to the client. 

Not Knowing the Applicable Law

Lawyers who practice in a certain area of the law usually stay apprised of changes and developments by attending seminars, taking required CLE classes, subscribing to and reading legal journals or publications, and talking to other practitioners with more experience. When an attorney agrees to take a case in an unfamiliar aspect of the law, he must be diligent in becoming knowledgeable by doing the research, reading the case law, and talking to attorneys who regularly and consistently handle such cases. Legal areas where many legal malpractice claims arise are estate planning, real estate, personal injury, family law, and bankruptcy. According to surveys by malpractice insurers, a substantial percentage of malpractice claims are in areas where lawyers practice less than 10% of the time. 

Failing to Communicate with Clients 

A common complaint among clients is that their attorney fails to communicate with them or keep them abreast of their case’s development. A lawyer who ignores her clients is at substantial risk of a legal malpractice claim against her. 

Good communication requires proper file management. An attorney must regularly follow up with a client by writing a letter or calling the client and ensuring that the client understands what is happening in the case. The attorney must also stress what a client can reasonably expect in their case and what the client can reasonably expect from the attorney. 

Clients must trust their attorneys and be forthcoming even with negative facts about themselves. Regular communication with the client can build that trust. A client who fails to inform her attorney about a pre-existing medical or mental condition, an accident that preceded the subject claim or came after the underlying one, a past felony conviction, or a prior encounter with a party or witness can have serious consequences for her case. 

Retain a Legal Malpractice Attorney from Burns and Jain 

When an attorney makes a mistake, or you suspect an error, or your attorney is ignoring you, call a legal malpractice attorney at Burns and Jain. Our attorneys will scrutinize your allegations and determine if you have a valid claim for legal malpractice. Call us today at (617) 227-7423 for a consultation about your claim.

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